Western Conference Overachievers – 2017

by Kevin Wickersham on January 23, 2017

 

Many factors can lead to a player overachieving. A player exceeding expectations can occur as much due to a player taking the next step in his game as a blip in shooting percentage. Either way the points are just as pleasant a surprise for poolies regardless of whether they are likely to continue long-term. Below are several notable players besting their predicted point-per-game pace this season.

 

Forwards

Player

Games

Points

Shots per Game

Time-on-Ice (TOI)

PPG & Diff

Eric Staal

45

40

2.62

19:02

0.89 (+0.34)

Matthew Tkachuk

45

30

1.78

14:19

0.67 (+0.34)

Mike Fisher

42

27

1.67

16:44

0.64 (+0.23)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eric Staal is absolutely thriving in the gopher state. He’s played a major role in the Wild’s success this season leading them in goals (16), points (40), and shots on goal (118), and his fast and physical veteran presence has elevated the games of those around him, most notably frequent line mate Charlie Coyle who is on pace to smash his previous career scoring highs. Staal has already surpassed his 39 points in 83 games with the Rangers and Carolina last season, and lends a toughness to Minnesota’s top line that has invigorated the entire club. Garnering the third-most average ice time per game among Wild forwards, and a respectable plus/minus of +11, he’s poised to help lead Minnesota and a few fantasy teams deep into the playoffs. 

 

Matthew Tkachuk has been a chip off the old block and proven it at the NHL level more quickly than most imagined. Sporting a physical, fearless game that has generated plentiful scoring opportunities, he has been invaluable to the Flames’ forward corps on the “3M” line including Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik. Second on the Calgary squad in assists (21), tied for second in points (30), and leading the team in both plus/minus at +9 and in PIM with 90 (remarkably he’s second in the NHL to only Antoine Roussel’s 98 PIM) in just 14:19 per game of ice time, the 19 year-old rookie has shattered pre-season expectations.  

Mike FisherAfter a down year by his standards in 2015-16 (13 G, 10 A in 70 games with a plus/minus of -14), the 17-year veteran center has rebounded well this year with 12 goals (tied for second in Nashville) and 15 assists (fourth on the team) in just 42 games. With his typically high faceoff success rate of 54.34%, and impressive power play work (six goals and five assists) in addition to 40 PIM, he’s a valuable asset in most leagues. In addition to increasing his shot percentage rate this year to 17.1% from 13.3%, his shots-per-game are up from 1.4 to 1.67, indicating he may have a few more productive scoring seasons left in the tank. 

 

 

Defense

 

Player

Games

Points

Shots per Game

Time-on-ice (TOI)

PPG & Diff.

Alec Martinez

46

25

1.89

22:26

0.54 (+0.11)

Derek Forbort

46

14

1.13

19:44

0.30 (+0.18)

 

Alec Martinez – This section is what the Kings are about – defense. While we have focused most closely on Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin on the LA blue line in recent times, Alec Martinez began to emerge at a high level last season, and was expected by some to come crashing back to the ice this year. But no. Not only has he exceeded Norris Trophy holder Doughty thus far in points, assists and game winning goals, he has impressively increased his stats over last year’s breakout. Since his 2014 Stanley Cup winning goal against the Rangers, his production has seen a steady increase. After totaling 31 points last year on 10 goals and 21 assists, he is currently on pace for 46 points, while maintaining respectable rankings among defensemen – 21st in hits and 15th in blocked shots. He also is averaging career highs in ice time (22:26) and power play time (2:17) per game.

 

Derek Forbort – The 24 year-old rookie has come from seemingly nowhere after Brayden McNabb’s October injury to claim a crucial role on the real team, as well as many multi-category fantasy teams. Currently paired with Doughty, they have formed a formidable duo. While Forbort’s most impressive stats have been on the defensive end, leading Kings blueliners in blocked shots with 96 and hits with 97, as well as in PIM with 44 in 19:44 of ice time per game. His contributions on offense with two goals and 12 assists while dressing for all 46 Kings’ contests pad the score sheet nicely, and are surprising given his initial projection of six points and 51 games.

 

Goalie

 

Player

Games

Wins

GAA

Save %

Expected Wins Diff.

Peter Budaj

40

20

2.14

.916

+20   

 

Peter Budaj – Again, this section is very Kings. Strong goaltending characterizes Los Angeles, but since 2008 it’s been almost exclusively Jonathan Quick’s crease. When he went down with a serious groin injury at the end of the first period in the first Kings’ game of the season, all seemed lost, particularly when we got a glimpse of Jeff Zatkoff’s game prior to his own injury. That’s when journeyman Budaj stepped in from the AHL’s Ontario Reign with whom he led the AHL last season with 42 victories, a 1.75 GAA, .932 SV% and nine shutouts. No one expected much. We kept waiting for the bottom to drop out of his game, and maybe still are. It hasn’t come yet. It’s fun to try and compute his expected wins differential, since no one saw him having a role with the big club, much less getting an NHL win this year. I don’t have an infinity key on my computer and I think that might express it. Yet he has won 20 games, the first time he’s done that since his Avalanche days in 2008-09. Only seven NHL goalies have more victories than Budaj this season. Budaj’s 2.14 goals-against average and .916% save percentage look good next to Quick’s 2.22 GAA and .918 SV% in 2015-16. Also impressive, Budaj has earned four shutouts in 40 games this campaign, versus Quick’s five shutouts in 68 games last season.

 

Honorable Mentions:

 

Player

Games

Wins

GAA

Save %

Expected Wins Diff.

Devan Dubnyk

36

25

1.91

.935

+7.3

 

Devan DubnykIt’s odd to think of Dubnyk as an overachiever considering his recent success with the Wild, but his work this year has been that incredible. One of, if not the, leading Vezina Trophy candidates, Dubnyk ranks first in the NHL in save percentage and goals-against average, is second only to Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky in wins, and tied for second in shutouts. His work in the net has been crucial in landing five members of the Wild in the NHL’s top six in plus/minus rating. Initially projected for 32 victories in 65 games with five shutouts (which would have left him with just under 18 wins at this juncture), Dubnyk is on pace to win 45, with nine shutouts, if he plays the same amount of contests.

 

 

Player

Games

Points

Shots per Game

Time-on-ice (TOI)

PPG & Diff.

Nikolaj Ehlers

49

42

2.41

17:37

0.86 (+0.22)

 

 

Nikolaj EhlersA key part Winnipeg’s prolific Laine/Scheifele/Ehlers line, in his second season the Danish 20-year-old has greatly impressed. No doubt buoyed by the impending threat presented to defenses by all three, the right wing’s shots this season tend to occur much closer to the net when compared with 2015-16, which has accompanied a shot percentage rise from 9% to 13.6%. Having already surpassed his 38-point total of last year, he’s on a pace to nearly double that with 70. Lest one be too concerned that Ehlers is wholly dependent upon Laine’s presence for scoring, in the seven games Laine has missed since his January 7th concussion, Ehlers has matched his personal season scoring rate with two goals and four assists, a PPG% of 0.86. Looking at peripherals, his ice time has increased a full minute-and-a-half over 2015-16, and his hits already have exceeded last year’s totals with 30 as compared to 29 for the entire season, as he displays increasing aggressiveness on the ice.

 

 

Player

Games

Points

Shots per Game

Time-on-ice (TOI)

PPG & Diff.

Charlie Coyle

45

37

1.96

17:33

0.82 (+0.22)

 

 

Charlie CoyleAnother major factor in all that is going right in Minnesota, Coyle is on target to reach career highs in points (67) and assists (44), and is following last year’s respectable 15% shot percentage with a nearly equal 14.8% while averaging over half-a-minute more per game on the power play (up to 2:26 from 1:54). Peripheral stats show him maintaining a Wild-like +15 plus/minus rating, that is amazingly only 8th best on the team, but tied for 22nd in the NHL. Coyle finished with a +1 in 2015-16. Additionally, he is blocking nearly a shot per game (44 in 45 games, with his previous career high of 62 in 82 games last season. A big beneficiary of Eric Staal’s presence, Coyle he has been a frequent line mate both on the power play and at even strength and, as I write this, enjoys a recent point-per-game pace totaling 15 (three goals and 12 assists) in his last 15 games.

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @KWcrosscheck